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Spiral Branding vs. Integrated Marketing

We’ve all heard integrated marketing roughly defined as “adopting a common theme and looking for all the various communications coming from an organization in order to make the brand as consistent as possible.” The entire organization is represented by a common theme to avoid fractured communications from different messaging. All return input from sales, responses and point-of-sale responses from coupons is put into a database, recorded and referenced internally or in an outsourced location.

The idea is that over time the consumers and prospects will come to know the company by the message it consistently delivers.

Integrated marketing makes sense for many reasons, including:

It presents a single face to the customer. Firms like Office Depot want to deal with their customers consistently with a single voice, no matter what interaction channel the customers use. This can become difficult when firms have multiple points of interaction such as Web site, point of sale and customer service. The biggest risk of customer defection comes when the customer information is inconsistent with the customer’s expectations.

It mines for profitable customers. When a firm like Liberty Mutual wants to identify its most profitable customers, it must examine data strewn across dozens of systems. This can pose an immense problem in disparate systems that lack the ability to communicate with other systems.

Spiral branding differs from integrated marketing in that it encompasses more than giving all communications a common theme and voice. Spiral branding includes the ability to identify your best customers or prospects immediately, deliver the common voice and serve relevant communication that is of specific interest to your target customer. This requires tremendous technological sophistication. The enterprise must be able to share information and have the systems in place to process the data at lighting speed.

Spiral branding puts the focus on the Internet as the core technology that encourages the customer to give and receive information. The enterprise then is expected to share this information across various divisions and departments. The overall idea is that information is funneled through the Net, integrated back into the legacy system and served back to the customer in the form of information relevant to his interests, thus fostering customer loyalty and enhancing the customer relationship.

If your company is to meet the challenges of the future, you will need to implement several key strategies:

Heightened focus on customers. Attention must be shifted from attracting new customers to cultivating current customers and prospects. More corporate resources should be spent on retaining the profitable customers than on the unprofitable ones.

Well-defined customer relationship strategy. This increasingly critical strategy will determine which customers the organization plans to attract, retain and cultivate. It will also dictate what balance of technology and process will be necessary to drive the customer relationship further.

Re-engineered internal processes to accommodate the new expectations of the consumer. Systems must be developed that allow customers to deliver feedback and the enterprise to remember that feedback and take action. Enterprisewide systems must be reworked to eliminate internal barriers that often obstruct customer relationship building activities, such as information hoarding.

Customer segmentation. To grow revenue, companies will have to work harder at discerning the differences among customer segments and customize different offerings based on the value of different customers to the enterprise.

The right technology. Companies must have the hardware and software technology to integrate all the external and internal database systems and exchange information seamlessly among divisions. The focus must be on meeting the expectations of the consumer. Technology should be understood as an enabler, not as an end in itself.

Staffing and empowering the front line. A company’s success hinges on the front-line interaction between the consumer and the employee. Empowering the employees at the point of contact will normally result in a happier, more loyal “gold” customer. Let the front-line staff understand who is important both as short-term and long-term customers and give them the best customer information available.

Spiral branding in the organization, both to build and support the brand, is the key to long-term success. But before this can happen, some critical abilities must be in place, including:

The ability to quantify the value of the customer interaction. The analytic applications’ reporting solutions help to quantify the value of the customer interaction. The metrics tracked and reported can help guide e-businesses with their customer relationship management strategies.

The ability to set thresholds to trigger rules and events. The results of the calculations that analytic applications provide can be used to set thresholds that trigger specified business rules and events and, in turn, automate the delivery of specific content (such as personalized offers and product recommendations).

The ability to integrate data. The problem with both the integrated marketing and spiral branding theoretical concepts is they rely on overcoming problems. One of these problems, data integration, is so significant that it minimizes all others. Data integration is the ability to integrate different data sets from multiple legacy systems into a common database.

Despite the Internet and the popular thinking that the Net is dealing with pristine data, the Net still depends on having access to data throughout the enterprise. Because most information about a customer has been stored in legacy systems for years, spiral branding – even though it depends on the Internet for its delivery system – must rely on historical information to work effectively.

Without quality integration, the final data do not produce good results when put into a common customer database. The integrated data sets may have inconsistent values or be lightly populated, and this can result in the delivery of poor information about the nature of a consumer.

Of all the presentations I make, the one that consistently generates the highest interest is data integration. Most likely this is because of the complexity of the issues involved in getting quality data into a common database. Some of the issues are:

• Customized applications are tough to integrate. In theory, packaged applications like Oracle or SQL are easy to integrate. In fact, these applications are difficult because they capture data in different ways. Data representing dates in one area may be represented differently in another application. It is important to create standards that have data in the same format and represented in the same way.

• Legacy data is unwieldy. Most legacy systems were never designed to share information with customers and trading partners. Legacy systems were designed to support operations or finance and had little or nothing to do with customer interactions.

So, which of these concepts will succeed, integrated marketing or spiral branding? The answer is: both. Integrated marketing depends less on technology and more on corporate commitment to presenting the brand. Spiral branding is more about the consumer focus and requires a higher corporate commitment to technology. Organizations should adopt one or the other, depending on their point of view. Neither will be wrong.

Anyone who has been following the stream of press releases issued this year by CRM and customer interaction companies knows that analytic applications vendors are quickly merging with CI and CRM providers. The purpose is to arrive at the best-of-breed software that will deliver a continuous stream of information and through automation deliver higher customer loyalty and a greater return on investment.

So to be prepared, study your company’s point of view. Does it embrace the Net? Or is the Net considered just another channel of communication? A consumer-focused company is more likely to adopt spiral branding than a product- or distribution-focused enterprise.

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